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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Water savers collect rain for summer use

by Debbie Bulger

When it is pouring outside during a winter storm, have you ever wondered if you could somehow save that water to use on your garden during the long, dry summer? Or perhaps keep the water on your property to nourish the soil and prevent it from running into the gutter and collecting oil and tire dust and depositing them in the Monterey Bay?

Sierra Club member Silvia Sweet started harvesting winter's bountiful crop of rain about eight years ago during Monterey Peninsula water rationing. Her modest 550-gallon cistern sits next to her driveway in the front yard of her Carmel Valley home. It's a simple system; the water flows off the roof into the cistern. Sweet fills her watering can from a spigot on the bottom of the cistern and gives her container plants a drink. She purchased her cistern from a local nursery.

At their house high up on the hillside above Carmel Valley, Tom and Rhonda Augustitus use a water collection system that Tom built himself. The water is collected off the roof in a 500-gallon tank and then transferred to a 6000-gallon above-ground swimming pool purchased to be used as a storage vessel. The swimming pool was an inexpensive solution that appealed to Tom's do-it-yourself personality. His motivation was to maintain his vegetable garden during the same water restrictions that prompted Silvia Sweet to purchase her cistern. Since the Augustitus storage pool is below the level of the house, Tom uses a 3/4 hp pump to bring the water up to thirsty plants.

Mark and Kristin Sullivan of Capitola didn't wait for water restrictions. When they built their new straw bale house (see The Ventana, Vol. 42, No 1, 2003) they installed a 2500-gallon cistern in their backyard. The large green tank will soon be screened by the native bushes the Sullivans have planted around it. Their drought-tolerant landscaping is fed all summer from the winter harvest. The pressurized cistern is gravity-fed from the Sullivans' roof and in turn supplies drip irrigation and a few sprinklers in the yard.

French drains

An alternative to installing a cistern is to build French drains which capture water from downspouts directing it into dry wells filled with crushed rock replenishing the water table. French drains can be concealed with filter cloth and topsoil which can be planted with flowers or other greenery. The connections with the downspouts are buried making the drains virtually invisible.

Many people install French drains to control runoff or standing water which can cause building damage or erosion. But an additional environmental benefit is that the water is diverted from running into the street and instead is redirected into the ground where it recharges the water table.

Club member Charles Koester of Boulder Creek installed French drains in an L-shape around part of his garage to keep the building from sitting in water after a rain. At Koester's house, the water drips off the garage eaves and into the French drains below on his gently sloping property.

When Richard Stover and Debbie Bulger were remodeling their house in 1995, they built French drains as an alternative to directing the water into the street (and ultimately into the Bay)-the other choice presented by the City of Santa Cruz Planning Department. "We didn't want to send more pollutants into the Marine Sanctuary," recalls Stover.


Water storage cisterns are available in a great range of sizes from 55 gallons to 5000 gallons and up. They cost from approximately $150 for a 55-gallon drum to about $850 for a 2500-gallon size. Cisterns can be purchased at water supply/sprinkler companies or ordered through some nurseries or gardeners. Installation costs are additional and would depend on your set-up.

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